That true traditional sound, the one that probably drew the vast majority of us to bluegrass, that’s the core and the beauty of the eighth album from the Finnish group Jussi Syren and the Groundbreakers. Few bands of the last thirty to forty years have captured it so well. Part of that sound comes from the way the CD was recorded. According to the notes, the entire process was analog, live and with no overdubs and finished in two days—just like the early bands did when they blew through King Studios on their way to Wheeling or Detroit. No compression to sweeten the sound here, no “we’ll fix it in the mix.”
The other part, the more important part, is that mandolinist Syren and his 13-year associates, banjoist Tauri Oksala, guitarist J.P. Putkonen, and bassist Kari Hella, along with their new fiddler, Nelli Ikola, have put in the long hours of study needed to get the inflections, the technique and the drive. But it doesn’t sound like an imitation. When they launch into covers of Stonewall Jackson’s moonshiner tale, “Blue Field,” or Ted Lundy’s “My Childhood Home” or a gentle, dead-on reading of Jim Eanes’ “Your Old Standby,” or when they’re covering their own band originals, such as Syren’s “The Old Home Place Ain’t The Same Anymore,” or the flat-out rip of “East Kentucky Coal Mining Man,” or the blues form of his “Syren Stomp,” your hearing a group that has absorbed the sound completely until it is their own. You’ll hear Earl in there, and Bill. You’ll hear in Syren’s lead vocals touches of Ralph Stanley and of the Paisleys. Mostly though, you’ll hear a group that gets it and makes it work, and that includes the almost garish ‘60s vintage color in the cover photo, and the fact they offer the album in vinyl format as well.
From start to finish, be it “Shenandoah Waltz” or the force of Syren’s angry “Detroit Blues,” or their a cappella quartet rendering of Carl Story’s “My Lord Keeps A Record”—which in this setting sounds like a field recording from Alan Lomax—this is a pure joy of a recording. It may sound strange to say an old sound like this is fresh and refreshing, but that’s what it is and why it gets a highlight status. (Jussi Syren, Kuusikkokj 2 C 6, 01380 Vantam, Finland firstname.lastname@example.org.)BW